Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What IS Wrong With Collin?

Of all of the things I've dreaded since first learning about Collin's diagnosis, the most nagging and joy-robbing has been a fear of the question: "What's wrong with him?"

I'm not sure why that question in particular seized my imagination. People essentially ask it all the time with their stares and beat-around-the-bush questions. But something about the thought of hearing those words just froze my blood. I felt like it would make my sweet and remarkable son an object of scrutiny, put me on the defensive for something that wasn't his fault, and generally make painfully obvious the chasm I already felt between us and so much of the world around us.

Imagine my surprise when, sitting in my parents' living room with all my dear family, I heard the words, "What's wrong with him?"

It was my uncle. The one who taught me to tie my shoes and how to be a good name-caller (He always came up with the best ones, like Chicken Fur and Pack-a-Rat); the one I always had a special bond with and the one with major developmental disabilities.

I was so shocked that I didn't know how to respond, so he went on to try to explain to me why he was asking the question. But he had trouble putting into words exactly what was different about Collin - a problem many people have - and so there was some confusion between us as we muddled through a hard thing together. I'm sad now that I had let my fearful anticipation of a question keep me from having an answer ready. Because of that, the conversation didn't clear anything up for anyone.

But now the first asking of the dreaded question is over and - what a relief - it came from someone I love, someone with genuine interest and no desire to pry or hurt, from someone who in many ways prepared me for this life and for the very question he was asking. It's kind of beautiful, when you think about it.

And the equally beautiful thing that has come out of it is that I have felt free to think more about my answer to the question than the question itself.

As I see it, there are three answers to the question, and they are all right:

1. Hypotonic Cerebral Palsy, Seizure Disorder with Infantile Spasms, Cortical Visual Impairment, Global Developmental Delays, and Feeding Disorder:
Collin's brain did not develop like other children's.
- Because of this fact, his brain doesn't communicate with his muscles well and his muscles have very low tone, making it hard for him to control his body.
- Because of this fact, his brain has a history of throwing off crazy signals in the form of seizures that delay development and cause all sorts of awful problems.
- Because of this fact, his brain has trouble understanding what his eyes, which are anatomically fine, 'see'.
- Because of this fact, his brain has difficulty processing the world around him, making it hard for him to interact with it, which inhibits his development.
- Because of this fact, his brain has a tough time handling all of the incredibly complex steps that go into eating and so he gets his nourishment straight into his tummy instead of through his mouth.

2. We don't know.
We don't know the underlying cause of all of Collin's challenges. It is likely genetic, though we may never know if it was inherited or a spontaneous mutation. There is no name for his constellation of symptoms.

3. There is nothing wrong with Collin.
Track with me on this. Early on this journey, I felt very annoyed by parents who described their special needs child as 'perfect' or 'just how they were supposed to be.' It felt trite or even glib, like they were minimizing the enormity of the situation and the challenges that lay ahead. What particularly bothered me were phrases like, 'God doesn't make mistakes,' and 'God made him/her special.' I thought that people were trying to ease their minds about a terrible thing by pinning it on God and thus making it okay. Granted, I believed in God's providence in my life - that he would sustain us through the crushing difficulties that came with Collin's issues, that I could ultimately trust Him as my Father even though I often felt so tired and alone - but the thought that He would have caused this to 'happen to' my son seemed unthinkable. Then I found this book. I tried to read it to Collin, but I couldn't make it through more than a page at a time at first, because the pictures and words pierced me so sharply. I won't delve too deeply into theology here, I will only say that once I started to consider the possibility that Collin was the way he was by design, my perspective started not just to shift, but to morph. I found myself examining the standards by which I was measuring Collin and the sources of those standards. I spent time meditating on purpose in a person's life. And, finally, I started to accept the mystery that something that doesn't seem like it could possibly be right is not, in fact, wrong.

So even though there is a list as long as your arm of things that keep Collin from being 'typical,' and even though we will probably never know the physiological source of his symptoms, there is nothing wrong with him, because 'wrong' signifies something incorrect or erroneous and Collin is neither. Different? Yes. Confounding? Yes. Difficult? Yes. Wrong? No.

Feel free to ask me about it.


  1. Those are three excellent answers. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Beautiful, courageous, insightful, spiritually mature...a wonderful post. God Bless you Annie!